Telling isn't Selling

The following understanding provides the basis for the development of any successful communication.

  • One of the biggest misunderstandings about human communication, and hence selling, is the belief that you can somehow inject your message into the mind of your prospect or customer.
  • It suits us to think that when we speak or write, communication will automatically happen.
  • But the evidence is very much against this. All too often I know what I mean when I say something, but when I've said it, even if you've heard me and understood what I've said, you don't necessarily share that meaning. In fact you might put quite a different interpretation on what I've said.
  • There's no power in the message. The power is in the prospect to make sense of the message.
  • Selling is not a matter of putting something in the mind of the prospect… it's a matter of getting something out.
  • Certainly the message goes in, but it doesn't carry the meaning or the underlying ideas with it, because meaning is a mental thing.
  • Meaning exists in peoples' minds, not in words. The job of the words is to trigger or tap or release the ideas that are already in the minds of our prospect.
  • If communication happens, it's because the message got some meaning out of you.
  • The message is a key that unlocks a response in the mind of the prospect.
  • The listener really acts on the message, rather than the message acting on the listener.
  • The meaning or the response is already there in the prospect waiting to be given. The job of the communicator is to get it out.
  • Another misunderstanding about selling seems to be that if you can speak or write, then you can communicate.
  • Communication can only be said to have succeeded when I have tapped the response that I'm looking for in the other person…when I've released whatever it is that I want to get out of the other person.
  • Communication is not something we do to each other, it's something we do with each other.
  • Communication always has the object of creating a response in someone else.
  • There's nothing mechanical or predictable about people's responses to communication. People will respond according to their own point of view, their own personality. People put their own meaning into the messages which they receive, and the message they get might not be the message you sent.
  • Communication occurs when we establish common ground between us - i.e., share some common understanding, agree on some common values, acquire some common knowledge.
  • Communication occurs when the intended meaning (the meaning that the communicator has in his mind when he starts the whole process) turns out to be roughly the same as the interpreted meaning (the meaning the audience chooses to attach to the message when they receive it).
  • The prospect really has most of the power in a communication relationship. What the prospect already thinks, or feels, or believes, or knows, is going to determine what kind of response I'll get to my message.
  • What we often overlook is that we all have independent cultures - we are all locked inside our own personal, unique, individual cultures. No-one else is exactly like me. No-one else has quite my background, quite my education, quite my physiology, quite my mental and emotional state.
  • A helpful way to look at this is to imagine that everyone with whom we might want to communicate is, in a sense, locked inside the "cage" of their own private culture, which is made up of all the things which they know, which they think, feel and believe - all of their attitudes, their values, their prejudices. That cage is something we build throughout our lives. Each experience I have becomes a bar on my personal cage. As I get older, my cage gets more and more complex, and there are more and more bars in it and it also gets more and more resistant to change.
  • We don't see the world as it is, we see it through the filter of our own private set of values and prejudices. This is the heart of the communication issue. When you want to communicate with someone, the question is this: can your message be accommodated within the framework of their existing mental and emotional state?
  • The easiest, most free-flowing and most successful communication, is always when you are telling people what they already know.
  • People will always have a tendency towards reinforcement of the shape and structure of their cage. New information is welcome if it fits into the existing pattern and change will occur when it doesn't involve too much demolition and re-building. The natural tendency is to go on believing what we already believe.
  • If you are going to try to communicate with someone, you have to know what's there… what responses are available. That's why so many advertisers spend so much time and money carrying out customer or prospect research. This is done by asking questions - trying to find out what's already out there in the prospect's cage, what responses are available that could be unlocked, that could be tapped, by the techniques of advertising.
  • Effective selling is achieved by releasing responses already within the prospect. That is the great limitation of the role of advertising - reinforcing and nurturing existing consumers' existing beliefs and behaviours - "preaching to the converted".
  • The secret of successful selling lies in first getting to know the prospect you want to communicate with. Once you have discovered something about their cage, then you begin to learn what responses they are capable of giving. You discover what capacity they have to respond.
  • Communication failure is worse than not attempting to communicate at all, because failure usually, to some extent, damages our relationships and makes future communication difficult to achieve. It's better not to try to communicate at all, than to go ahead knowing that you are likely to fail.


So the key to success is asking questions, then listening to the answers, that is, Active Listening. Active Listening

Hearing is physical and involuntary - by itself it does not make sense of the sound.

Listening is making sense of the sound (attaching meaning to) - psychological and voluntary

Why are we such poor listeners:

  1. Listening is hard physical work (creates tension) and
  2. Emotional hard work (prejudices, preconceptions get in the way)

Important Principle:

  1. Good listening requires keeping an open mind
  2. Imagine you are in the other person's cage

A good listener is a courageous person (experimenting with another person's framework). It does not mean agreeing with everybody, it means experimenting with agreeing.

Go along with the person's discussion, without making judgements until the end and then making up your mind to agree or disagree. Receive before you react.

Some words (trigger words) can cause a type of emotional deafness. Examples may be words like Computer, Head Office, Mother-In-Law, Chairman. Identify and avoid these words for more effective communication.

Good Rule:

Don't relax - work at the job of listening (in a physical and a mental way) - it is a task.

People talk, on average, at a rate of 125 words per minute whereas thinking in words may be at a rate of 500 wpm. This discrepancy makes the listener open to distractions. The listeners should actively discipline themselves to harness their thought speed to concentrate on what is being said.

After listening, show some evidence that the words have been understood.


  1. Prospects are unlikely to listen unless they really want to listen
  2. The biggest threat to good listening is the listener's own prejudices
  3. Listening involves hard work
  4. It takes discipline to use as much of your mental capacity as possible when listening (so that you don't get distracted by other thoughts)
  5. Tell the prospect what message you have received

Skill in listening is 90% of the art of selling.
Source: Hugh Mackay